PMean: A rant about the “reader pays” model of publication

Something came up in our department about a predatory pay for access journal that was soliciting support. All the appropriate warnings were made (there’s a nice explanation of predatory open access publishing at Wikipedia, if you’re curious). But I felt that I had to made a strong defense of the value provided by legitimate open access publishers. Here’s a summary of what I wrote.

I concur with [name removed]. One more point needs to be said, though. Open access journals are, in general, a very good development in research. Open access broadens the availability of research for patients studying their own disease, physicians in developing countries who can’t afford the subscription fees of most journals, and high school students who want a taste of medical research. They provide a new opportunity for text analytics, because you can mine the relevant literature far more easily when it is open access. They also make sense for federally supported research. Why should an agency like NIH pay millions of dollars for research and then have it sealed behind a pay wall?

There’s also an argument that the subscription based journals are the true predators. The fees that they charge for journals have increased outrageously at a time when the cost of production of journals has decreased markedly. They charge these fees in spite of relying on a largely free group of volunteer editors and peer reviewers. If I were asked to offer peer review for free, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that the product that I help produce is also distributed for free.

That does not invalidate any of the previous comments. The reader pays model and the author pays model both have pluses and minuses and there’s a lot of issues that I can’t get into in a brief email. And, sure, there are lots of bad actors out there in the Open Access movement, and you need to be aware of them. But the work done by Biomed Central and the Public Library of Science, among others, is a truly wonderful development that should be applauded by all researchers.

[Name removed] will recognize this rant because it’s one of my guest lectures for the Responsible Conduct of Research class. Sorry to everyone else, but sometimes I need to rage a little bit.